Brief thaw bad for palace, good for ice fishing

A Wednesday thaw with temperatures in the high 50s is causing problems around the region, including for the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace builders, but it’s good news for the fishing derby planned for Tupper Lake this weekend.

The high temperature for the Saranac Lake area Wednesday was 56 degrees, more than twice the normal 25-degree temperature for Jan. 30 historically, according to, which gives users access to historical weather data. The National Weather Service forecasts that by the end of tonight, temperatures will reach a low of 3 degrees below zero, and below-freezing temperatures and snow are forecasted for the rest of the week.

Several schools in Essex and Clinton counties were closed this morning as a precautionary measure due to potential flooding of the AuSable River. As of 8 a.m., the AuSable Valley Central School District – which includes the AuSable Forks and Keeseville elementary schools, and the AuSable Valley middle and high schools in Clintonville – had closed, as well as Holy Name Catholic school in AuSable Forks and Adirondack Christian School in Wilmington.

An ice jam caused flooding in Upper Jay, and therefore state Route 9N, between state Route 73 in the town of Keene and state Route 86 in the town of Jay, was closed to traffic for several hours this morning. Chris Garrow, superintendent of the town of Jay’s Department of Public Works, said the highway was flooded with “a couple feet of water.”

Garrow said the ice jam had broken free as of about 8 a.m.

“It went right through AuSable, right down all the way to Keeseville,” he said.

Garrow said the water from the river has receded, and town and state highway crews were busy cleaning ice off of the highway.

“We dodged another bullet,” Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas said.

In Saranac Lake, the thaw means a lot of work for people working on the Winter Carnival Ice Palace. It was beginning to snow this morning as Dean Baker, who oversees the building of the Ice Palace, was at the site along River Street. He helped remove tarps that were draped over most of the structure Wednesday to shield it from the elements, and he also replaced a barrier that melted.

Several walls fell in due to the thaw, and holes gaped in between the stacked blocks that remained standing. The palace had been built up to full height Tuesday night and had just needed one tower finished and decorations added, Baker said.

“We’ve got to rebuild about half,” Baker said.

The plan was to spend today making slush and packing it into the cracks between blocks.

“Anything we can fix, we will,” Baker said.

But later this morning, Pat Carnell sent notice to palace workers that the ground is too soft for work today, so the patching will have to happen simultaneously with rebuilding Friday, once temperatures drop.

Work on the palace began Saturday, a week later than usual. Baker said his crews have dealt with thaws in the past, but never this close to the planned palace lighting. The lighting is planned for 7 p.m. Saturday.

“Wish us luck on that,” Baker said. “I don’t know if it will happen. I hope so.”

The palace is the centerpiece of the Carnival, set for Friday through Feb. 10. Thousands of people attend its many events.

In Tupper Lake, the Northern Challenge fishing derby is planned for this Saturday. Every year, close to a thousand anglers pack the ice on Simond Pond for the event. Dave McMahon, who’s been chairman of the derby for a decade, said this morning that the thaw helps conditions for his event.

“Actually, the weather’s really helping us,” McMahon said. “It took away what snow we had on top of the ice.

“Tonight is really cold again, and that will just make ice, and we’re all set.”

McMahon said he expects this to go much better than two years ago, when a thaw melted the snow on top of the ice and didn’t freeze back up, so there was at least a foot of slush over most of the ice that fishers had to wade through.